Film tribute to the Wapping workers
24 July, 2020 — By John Gulliver
I WONDER whether the turbulent events that led to the death of Fleet Street, the heart of the British press for centuries, are taught in Camden schools – it uprooted and destroyed so many lives locally.
The villain in the story is the media mogul Rupert Murdoch who secretly set up a high-tech printing plant in Wapping in the Docklands area and then overnight closed down his newspapers in Fleet Street and Gray’s Inn Road and transferred production to his “hide out”.
It happened in 1986 – and Chris Reeves, a documentary maker who has made films for several unions, has now created a thrilling historical document, Wapping: the Workers’ Story.
Many young people probably know little about it – if anything. Yet for more than a year thousands of print workers and supporters gathered at weekly protest meetings outside the Wapping plant and scuffles and fights broke out between them and the police. Several workers who had been sacked were charged with various offences and jailed.
Reeves, who lives in King’s Cross, interviewed more than 20 workers – one of them came from his home in Spain for the interview. I went to the protest rallies at Wapping and got to know some of the sacked men and women. And I have met quite a few black cabbies who used to be printers in Fleet Street.
Reeves collaborated with Ann Field of the News International Dispute Archive – she was a prominent print official in the SOGAT union caught up in the battle against Murdoch.
Reeves, a talented film maker, was trained by a master of the TV documentary world, Stuart Hood, one of the most influential figures at the BBC in the 1960s who was forced out and took up teaching film making at the Royal College of Art where the two men met – pupil and master.
Too left-wing for the college, Hood was dismissed and then wrote novels and a famous memoir, Pebbles in my Skull, relating his days during the war when he fought with the partisans against Mussolini.